Cook sues envoy over low pay
Posted Saturday, March 9 2013 at 02:00
Ms Wokuri says she was employed by Ms Kassam in her personal capacity, rather than being a servant of the High Commission.
Ms Mumtaz Kassam, Uganda’s former Deputy Head of Mission in London, is accused of paying her chef a fraction of the minimum wage with a full-time annual salary of £6,500 (Shs25 million).
Her long-serving chef and housekeeper Daphne Wokuri, 46, is now suing her, claiming £90,000 (Shs351million) in wages and interest, and says her boss forged her signature on an employment contract in 2006. The diplomat has invoked diplomatic immunity in response to the claim. The High Court case will be a test for foreign envoys’ diplomatic immunity, which is more frequently used to avoid parking fines and congestion charges in London.
The court heard that Ms Wokuri was an illiterate 22-year-old when Ms Kassam, who is now acting High Commisioner for Uganda in Rome, “took her under her wing” while still in Uganda and gave her a job in 1988.
When Ms Kassam took the Deputy Head of Mission job in London in 2004, she brought Ms Wokuri with her to the UK. She was paid £125 (Shs487, 500)-a-week, amounting to a full time annual salary of £6,500 (Shs25m).
Ms Wokuri complained to the ambassador about her wages in 2010, telling her she wanted her pay roughly doubled to bring it into line with the UK minimum wage – then £5.93(Shs23, 000) per hour – and followed up her complaint with a lawsuit.
Arfan Khan, speaking for Ms Wokuri, said Ms Kassam’s defence is founded on claims that the cook signed an employment contract with the High Commission in 2006. However, insisting that the signature was “forged”, he said of Ms Wokuri: “She is not somebody who can read or write.”
Ms Wokuri also says she was employed by the ambassador in her personal capacity, rather than being a servant of the Ugandan High Commission. Judge Jonathan Gaunt QC said: “She [Ms Kassam] says that a contract of employment signed in 2006 succeeded the 1988 contract of employment and that Ms Wokuri was employed by the Commission rather than her. “If the contract had been made between Ms Wokuri and the Commission, that would be a highly material, if not conclusive, factor.
“The question is whether the contract was signed and what she was employed to do – whether the signature on the 2006 contract was a forgery or the signature of Ms Wokuri.” He said: “It is hugely unfair for my client to go away with this stain on her character. This is a lady she took under her wing. She gave a job to a 22-year-old who is now seeking to make a profit at my client’s expense and ruin her reputation.”
The case is due to return to the High Court in June.